Philip Jenkins Quotes
“Looking at a situation like the Israel-Palestine conflict, Americans are likely to react with puzzlement when they see ever more violent and provocative acts that target innocent civilians. We are tempted to ask: do the terrorists not realize that they will enrage the Israelis, and drive them to new acts of repression? The answer of course is that they know this very well, and this is exactly what they want. From our normal point of view, this seems incomprehensible. If we are doing something wrong, we do not want to invite the police to come in and try and stop us, especially if repression will result in the deaths or imprisonment of many of our followers. In a terrorist war, however, repression is often valuable because it escalates the growing war, and forces people to choose between the government and the terrorists. The terror/repression cycle makes it virtually impossible for anyone to remain a moderate. By increasing polarization within a society, terrorism makes the continuation of the existing order impossible.
Once again, let us take the suicide bombing example. After each new incident, Israeli authorities tightened restrictions on Palestinian communities, arrested new suspects, and undertook retaliatory strikes. As the crisis escalated, they occupied or reoccupied Palestinian cities, destroying Palestinian infrastructure. The result, naturally, was massive Palestinian hostility and anger, which made further attacks more likely in the future. The violence made it more difficult for moderate leaders on both sides to negotiate. In the long term, the continuing confrontation makes it more likely that ever more extreme leaders will be chosen on each side, pledged not to negotiate with the enemy. The process of polarization is all the more probably when terrorists deliberately choose targets that they know will cause outrage and revulsion, such as attacks on cherished national symbols, on civilians, and even children.
We can also think of this in individual terms. Imagine an ordinary Palestinian Arab who has little interest in politics and who disapproves of terrorist violence. However, after a suicide bombing, he finds that he is subject to all kinds of official repression, as the police and army hold him for long periods at security checkpoints, search his home for weapons, and perhaps arrest or interrogate him as a possible suspect. That process has the effect of making him see himself in more nationalistic (or Islamic) terms, stirs his hostility to the Israeli regime, and gives him a new sympathy for the militant or terrorist cause.
The Israeli response to terrorism is also valuable for the terrorists in global publicity terms, since the international media attack Israel for its repression of civilians. Hamas military commander Salah Sh’hadeh, quoted earlier, was killed in an Israeli raid on Gaza in 2002, an act which by any normal standards of warfare would represent a major Israeli victory. In this case though, the killing provoked ferocious criticism of Israel by the U.S. and western Europe, and made Israel’s diplomatic situation much more difficult. In short, a terrorist attack itself may or may not attract widespread publicity, but the official response to it very likely will. In saying this, I am not suggesting that governments should not respond to terrorism, or that retaliation is in any sense morally comparable to the original attacks. Many historical examples show that terrorism can be uprooted and defeated, and military action is often an essential part of the official response. But terrorism operates on a logic quite different from that of most conventional politics and law enforcement, and concepts like defeat and victory must be understood quite differently from in a regular war.”
“Ironically, the same church gathering that had denounced Paul of Samosata back in 268 had explicitly condemned the term homoousios, which that earlier council had regarded as one of Paul’s heretical innovations. In 268, the church dismissed the word as heretical nonsense; sixty years later, it was the watchword for unifying orthodoxy.”
“Fritz Lang's 1927 film Metropolis is commonly regarded as one of the classics of cinema, and at the time it was probably the most expensive film ever made. Only in light of recent restoration work, though, can we see how explicitly it draws on apocalyptic themes in its prophetic depiction of modern society. Partly, Metropolis reflects the ideas of Oswald Spengler, whose sensationally popular book The Decline of the West appeared in 1918. Spengler presented nightmare forecasts of the vast megalopolis, ruled by the superrich, with politics reduced to demagoguery and Caesarism, and religion marked by strange oriental cults. Lang borrowed that model but added explicit references to the Bible, and particularly Revelation. In the future world of Metropolis, the ruling classes dwell in their own Tower of Babel, while the industrial working class is literally enslaved to Moloch.”
“And so likewise among the Bactrians and Huns and Persians, and the rest of the Indians, Persarmenians, and Medes and Elamites, and throughout the whole land of Persia there is no limit to the number of churches with bishops and very large communities of Christian people, as well as many martyrs, and monks also living as hermits.28”
“Deeply ingrained in the Christian tradition, as in the Jewish and Muslim faiths, is the concept of a God who intervenes in history, through many and diverse ways. In the Bible, we hear of God guiding history through determining the outcome of battles, through granting or withholding children, through shortening or extending lives. Often, God permits his chosen people to suffer defeat and dispersal, for reasons no mortal can discern at the time. The book of Isaiah presents the pagan king Cyrus as the agent fulfilling God’s will in this world, whether or not the Persian ruler had any inkling of the fact. To paraphrase an earlier remark, the fact that we cannot discern purpose or guidance in earthly events does not mean that none exists. To the contrary, we might argue that a purpose that can be easily traced—for instance, God always granting victory to his Catholic servants, or his Muslim followers—would be evidence of a simple deity of brute strength more like those of pagan Greece or Rome, rather than the complex God of history presented by later faiths.”
“Cities fell apart in violent conflicts over a single letter: was Christ of the same being with the Father, or of like being, homoousios or homoiousios? Was he from two natures (ek duo), or in two (en duo)?
Such language is seriously off-putting for most modern readers, including many educated Christians. And it uses so many technical terms that almost seem to the uninitiated like secret codes. Person? Subsistence? Nature? A critic could be forgiven for comparing the straightforward words of Jesus, with all the everyday analogies and images—sheep and harvests, the sparrows and the lilies of the field, the erring brother and the widow’s penny—to the arcane philosophical language used here. Jesus spoke of love; his church spoke in riddles. I may not be the only modern reader who hears the language of Chalcedon—two but not one—and finds his thoughts occasionally straying to the film Monty Python and the Holy Grail. A monk offers instructions for the Holy Hand Grenade of Antioch, in a deliberate parody of the Athanasian Creed:
First shalt thou take out the Holy Pin, then shalt thou count to three, no more, no less. Three shalt be the number thou shalt count, and the number of the counting shall be three. Four shalt thou not count, nor either count thou two, excepting that thou then proceed to three. Five is right out.”
“In ninth-century Mesopotamia, Muslim exclusivist al-Jahiz denounced the Christians not just for their worldly success, but for their immersion in Arabic culture, even to the point of taking familiar Arabic names: “They are called Hasan and Husain and Abbas and Fadl and Ali, and they take all these as surnames; and there is nothing left but that they should be called Muhammad and be surnamed Abu 'l-Qasim!”15 Such wholesale absorption allowed wealthy and successful minorities to parade their success without any obvious sign of their religious taint, any hint of inferiority, and such overassimilation in all matters except the religious provoked Muslim regimes to enforce the symbolic badges of the Umaric code. But such cultural boundaries did not limit the spread of Arabic, and an Arabic-speaking world had already made a massive leap toward the possible adoption of Islam. As Peter Brown remarks, “[U]ltimately, it was the victory of Arabic which opened the doors to Islamization.”16 The older languages of the subject peoples fell increasingly into disuse, sometimes because Muslim regimes limited their use in the public sphere.”
“Yet even when such languages did not face direct official sanction, speakers of older tongues knew that they had little chance of getting on in an Arabic world. By the eleventh century, Coptic and Syriac were declining as major languages, and the compiler of the History of the Patriarchs of Alexandria translated the work into Arabic because “today Arabic is the language that the people of Egypt know…most of them being ignorant of Coptic and Greek.”18”
“Perhaps theological attempts to explain the destruction of churches or of “Christian nations” are asking the wrong question, if they judge success and failure by the standards of the secular world. When, for instance, a Christian community loses political or cultural hegemony, historians might conventionally think of it as having failed, as if the faith must of necessity be allied to political power, and even military victory. Although such a linkage to worldly success was commonplace in earlier times, it has fewer adherents today. Instead of seeking explanations for the loss of divine favor, Christians should rather stress the deep suspicion about the secular order that runs through the New Testament, where the faithful are repeatedly warned that they will live in a hostile world, and a transient one. Nowhere in that scripture are Christians offered any assurance that they will hold political power, or indeed that salvation is promised to descendants or to later members of a particular community. Perhaps the real mystery of Christianity is not in explaining failure or eclipse at particular times, but rather in accounting for the successes elsewhere.”
“For much of the history of Islam, moreover, the Christian world was not noticeably ahead in political or economic power, or in culture. When Muslims recalled the crusading era, they remembered a series of wars that they had won, decisively. At least until the eighteenth century, there was little reason to question the assumption that the Muslim world was the heart of civilization, that Islam had won globally and was continuing to win.”
“Indeed, someone from the Anabaptist tradition might argue that minority status and persecution are the natural and predictable outcome of attempting to live a Christian life, and it is the communities that coexist comfortably with state power that have departed from the norm. What matters is not the size or numbers claimed by churches, but rather the quality of witness demonstrated by Christians in their particular circumstances. Of course, Christians were persecuted in seventeenth-century Japan, and in many other places before and since. And just as evidently, Christians have often experienced the status of being persecuted minorities, or, commonly, persecuted majorities, sometimes in societies they had once dominated. Why should any historically informed observer expect matters to be different? As the letter to the Hebrews declares, here, we have no abiding city.”
“charismatic people movements that seek to change their world through the translation of Christian truth and the transfer of power. These grassroots movements are a combination therefore of a spiritual factor (the Spirit of God), a people factor (the transfer of power to the marginalized), a truth factor (the application of the gospel to the pressing questions of a people group and culture) and a justice factor (a mission to change one’s world in response to the gospel).”
“Worldly success was a potent force in the growth of Islam, and in the shriveling of Christianity. That fact may be troubling to Christians, whose faith so often extols the triumph of the meek and humble while rejecting worldly success, and who are so familiar with the concept of defeat as the root of long-term victory. In practice, though, Christians often had used material successes as proofs of their faith. As we have seen, church writers pointed to miracles and healings to vouch for the power of Christ, and such events often explained important conversions. Though such claims continued to be made, they were increasingly outweighed by the obvious successes of Muslim states and armies. At several critical moments, Muslim victories proved enormously damaging to the Christian cause, from the early triumphs over the Byzantine Empire onward. As the early Islamic convert 'Ali Tabari explained, “[Muhammad’s] victory over the nations is also by necessity and by undeniable arguments a manifest sign of the prophetic office.”20 If God had not been on his side, how could Muhammad’s followers possibly have won such stunning victories over ancient empires?”
“Looking at the sweep of Christian history, we are often reminded of this message of the transience of human affairs, and, based on that, of the foolishness of associating faith with any particular state or social order. Even the Roman Empire was not to exist forever. Yet while Christian states have come and gone, not all the apparent disasters that afflicted particular communities have prevented the growth of what is today the world’s most numerous religion, and which will remain so for the foreseeable future.”
“The more we study the catastrophes and endings that befell individual churches in particular eras, the better we appreciate the surprising new births that Christianity achieves in these very years, in odd and surprising contexts. Just as Turkish power was reaching its height in the traditional Christian lands of the Middle East and the Balkans, so the seafaring Christian powers were bringing their faith to the New World and the Pacific. And while the 1915–25 period in the Middle East marked the extinction or ruin of ancient Christian communities, this was exactly the era in which the religion began its epochal growth in black Africa, arguably the most important event in Christian history since the Reformation. But the history can be appreciated in its fullness only by acknowledging the defeats and disasters alongside the triumphs and expansions.”
“Diyarbakir was once Amida, a thriving monastic center and a patriarchal seat, while nearby Malatya was once the Christian metropolis of Melitene. Northwest of Mosul lies the Tur Abdin Plateau, the Mountain of the Servants of God. In this area we find the cities of Nisibis and Mardin, as well as a group of perhaps a hundred monasteries that have been described as the Mount Athos of the East.”
- Description: John Philip Jenkins was born in Wales in 1952. He was educated at Clare College, in the University of Cambridge, where he took a prestigious “Double First” degree—that is, Double First Class Honors. In 1978, he obtained his doctorate in history, also from Cambridge. Since 1980, he has taught at Penn State University, and currently holds the rank of Edwin Erle Sparks Professor of the Humanities. He is also a Distinguished Senior Fellow at Baylor University's Institute for Studies of Religion.
Though his original training was in early modern British history, he has since moved to studying a wide range of contemporary topics and issues, especially in the realm of religion.
Jenkins is a well-known commentator on religion, past and present. He has published 24 books, including The New Faces of Christianity: Believing the Bible in the Global South and God's Continent: Christianity, Islam and Europe's Religious Crisis (Oxford University Press). His latest books, published by HarperOne, are The Lost History of Christianity and Jesus Wars (2010).
His book The Next Christendom in particular won a number of honors. USA Today named it one of the top religion books of 2002; and Christianity Today described The Next Christendom as a “contemporary classic.” An essay based on this book appeared as a cover story in the Atlantic Monthly in October 2002, and this article was much reprinted in North America and around the world, appearing in German, Swiss, and Italian magazines.
His other books have also been consistently well received. Writing in Foreign Affairs in 2003, Sir Lawrence Freedman said Jenkins's Images of Terror was “a brilliant, uncomfortable book, its impact heightened by clear, restrained writing and a stunning range of examples.”
Jenkins has spoken frequently on these diverse themes. Since 2002, he has delivered approximately eighty public lectures just on the theme of global Christianity, and has given numerous presentations on other topics. He has published articles and op-ed pieces in many media outlets, including the Wall Street Journal, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Boston Globe, New Republic, Foreign Policy, First Things, and Christian Century. In the European media, his work has appeared in the Guardian, Rheinischer Merkur, Süddeutsche Zeitung, Welt am Sonntag, and the Kommersant (Moscow). He is often quoted in news stories on religious issues, including global Christianity, as well as on the subject of conflicts within the Roman Catholic Church and the Anglican Communion, and controversies concerning cults and new religious movements. The Economist has called him “one of America's best scholars of religion.”
Over the last decade, Jenkins has participated in several hundred interviews with the mass media, newspapers, radio, and television. He has been interviewed on Fox's The Beltway Boys, and has appeared on a number of CNN documentaries and news specials covering a variety of topics, including the sexual abuse crisis in the Catholic Church, as well as serial murder and aspects of violent crime. The 2003 television documentary Battle for Souls (Discovery Times Channel) was largely inspired by his work on global Christianity. He also appeared on the History Channel special, Time Machine: 70s Fever (2009).
Jenkins is much heard on talk radio, including multiple appearances on NPR's All Things Considered, and on various BBC and RTE programs. In North America, he has been a guest on the widely syndicated radio programs of Diane Rehm, Michael Medved, and James Kennedy; he has appeared on NPR’s Fresh Air, as well as the nationally broadcast Canadian shows Tapestry and Ideas. His media appearances include newspapers and radio stations in the United Kingdom, Ireland, Canada, Australia, Denmark, Sweden, the Netherlands, and Brazil, as well as in many different regions of the United States.
Because of its relevance to policy issues, Jenkins's work has attracted the attention of gove